West Glos & Dean Forest
Motor Cycle Club

Celebrating 65 Years of Motor Cycling 1953 - 2018

Wyegate Backwards

Words and Photos By Ben Falconer

Thanks largely to the weather, the 2004 Wyegate Trial was probably the toughest of all 21 (or was it 20?) editions - more than a fifth of the field didn’t finish.

But there’s always someone with a tale of woe to top ‘em all. Ben Falconer still bears the mental scars of riding the Wyegate route on a bicycle back in 1993, with Anthony Moore and Roger Baldwin.

It rained all day. And they wore shorts.

ANYONE who’s ever turned up to a trial on the wrong day will identify with my feelings when we rolled up at a deserted Orepool Inn car park on a Sunday morning. The rain was hammering down and Dad and I sat in the car, wondering whether the others would bother to turn up.

Why were we there? A little side-hobby of some West Glos’ members was, is and will probably always be mountain biking. We were no different and enjoyed taking things to extremes.

If we weren’t goading each other in to dropping off something vertical or a bus stop roof (true!), there’s nothing we liked more than a good, hard all-day endurance ride.

At one club night just after the 1993 Wyegate, matters were taken to their logical conclusion when some bright spark came up with the original idea of riding the Wyegate route backwards under pedal power.

“It’s a piece of cake,” we reasoned. “We’ve got the route mapped out already and if we ride it the other way round, then we won’t have to struggle up the sections but ride down ‘em instead.”

After my fourth Stella in the Orepool, this seemed like a sensible plan. Conveniently we forgot about the 75 miles between the exciting downhill sections, some of which were really quite uphill.

Interest grew and we reckoned we could count on a fair few turning up for the ride, possibly even ten, keen to relive the Wyegate in heroic fashion.

Fast forward a few weeks just before Easter, sitting in Dad’s car with no-one about, I wondered just how many would turn out.

In fact two did. And the others were sensibly tucked up in bed. It was 8am after all. To be fair to those who showed an interest, it was just that. Wisely, no-one had promised to turn up.

Anthony Moore spun his wheels in to the car park on his Haines & Co issue Emmelle steed, replete with Hi-Gear helmet and an anorak - he was the kiddie. Well, it was 1993.

As now, Anthony was heavily involved in the Wyegate, usually as a backmarker or course-opener, so he knew the route.

Roger Baldwin closely followed him. At the time, Roger was Yorkley’s foremost downhiller.

He was fending off a mid-life crisis by spending a small fortune on a full suspension Pro-Flex, and he sported a ponytail.

We were jealous, but not of the ponytail, mind.

Me? I was 19 - young and dumb. And easily led by Rog’, Anthony and a few others after a few Orepool beers on the first and third Monday of each month.

Wearing another “mushroom” Hi-Gear crash hat favoured by the fashion-unconscious, I was literally finding my feet with clip-less SPD pedals. Quite often I’d over tighten them and find my elbows on the floor.

“Are any of the others coming?” we all wondered. In our heart of hearts, we all knew the answer, so we set off in to the pouring rain.

We had to crack on, because we knew that to get round would take around 9 hours. We were wrong. It took 11.

My dad and veteran Wyegate campaigner Tony Falconer arranged to meet us at various points around the route in the car, to re-fuel us and assist to any mechanical repairs.

Anyone fearing a blow-by-blow account of how we fared on each section can read on without fear. To be frank, I can’t remember much about the route thanks to the delirium which set in at around the 55 mile mark.

Knowing there’s 20 miles to go and you’re running on fumes does funny things to the mind. You enter tunnel vision. The light at the end of it was The Orepool (it was a cracking pub back then).

A few shafts of light illuminate the memory, though.

Dad first met us at Devauden village, where we scoffed most of the cake supplies intended to last for the rest of the day.

The lunch stop in the Greyhound at Llansoy was like trying to fill up a leaky petrol can. We just couldn’t pack enough calories in. We rolled out of the pub back in to the rain, wearing thin waterproof jackets and lycra shorts, realising we weren’t even half way round.

The rain continued teeming down.

A few short cuts were taken but by and large the route was faithfully followed. But to illustrate how desperately knackered we were, we crossed a road bridge which bore the warning sign “Road Closed. Bridge in Danger of Collapse”, or something similar.

The highlight of the day was skittering down Pant-Glas, pulling wheelies off the steps. Anthony beat me and Roger to the bottom of the legendary section. He was handier than me on an MTB, a state of affairs which continues on two wheels today.

But as the day wore on, it dawned on us what we had got ourselves in to. Exhaustion led to depression and we fought to keep each other’s spirits up. No-one dared admit we were in too deep but I for one knew we were.

I think Dad sensed this and started meeting us at shorter intervals.

As we headed down Bigsnap, we were starving and we thought we were completely out of food.

Then one of us ‘fessed up to the others that we had a satsuma left to eat.

Only our good natures averted a squabble for this humble piece of fruit. It was shared out and we devoured it in seconds.

Things might have been getting on top of Roger a tad by then, because he was seriously musing on the idea of eating whoever fell off their bike first, due to exhaustion.

Thankfully Dad averted the first case of cannibalism in the Wye Valley for some years when he met us at Bigsweir.

He’d bought a pile of cake in Tintern, which gave us just enough energy to think about riding back over the bridge in to England.

Then we’d have to ride back up the mile or so of the hill to Stowe, en route to The Orepool.

Every bone and muscle ached in my body like it hadn’t done before. And I was fairly fit at the time, cycling around 100 miles a week and circuit training. The others were putting in similar efforts too.

There was just nothing left. We split up on the final climb. It was every man for himself.

I was at the tail while I think Anthony led on. He was going for the “hard and fast, then nothing left” approach. It worked. He even cycled home to the other side of Coleford.

It was getting dark now, on the way to 7pm. 11 hours in the saddle and it felt like we were in danger of doing permanent physical harm to ourselves.

My Orange Aluminium was a light bike for its time but it felt like a lead weight underneath me.

I caught Roger and went past him but couldn’t even muster the energy to encourage him. We were, as they say in the aeronautical industry “pushing the envelope” of our physical endurance.

It did end, however, just before 7pm. No fan-fare or even a welcoming pint - we were utterly shattered and went straight home.

I was so tired, I couldn’t even get off to sleep that night.

But it made for some story at club night. There was no bullshit - it was all true, in all its horrifying glory.

And it illustrated the unspoken and unbroken spirit of the West Glos club, whose efforts make for such great events enjoyed by hundreds of riders.

Nostalgia tends to conveniently rub out life’s horrible bits, but the horrible bits of that ride are just too horrible to erase. Perhaps there was a reason why. I never attempted a ride like that again, or drank Stella.